Sophisticated diplomat in Tel Aviv

By Martin Bright, August 9, 2012

The spat between Conservative Friends of Israel and our man in Tel Aviv has taken a lot of people by surprise. Matthew Gould has rarely been out of the news since he took up his post as UK ambassador and had previously been under fire from figures on the left who questioned his loyalty as this country's first Jewish envoy to Israel. Now it is the turn of the right to take a pop at him following comments to Ha'aretz and Channel Ten suggesting that mainstream international opinion is turning away from Israel. On the face of it, this is a straightforward statement of the obvious, although it is unusual for a diplomat to make such a direct critical intervention in the media.

But it is important to look at the specifics of the criticism levelled at Mr Gould. Stuart Polak, the politically canny director of CFI, is objecting not to Mr Gould's critique of Israeli policy but to his generalisation that MPs on the middle ground of British politics are shifting away from support for Israel. The background to this is a concern that this merely parrots a self-justifying Foreign Office line about mainstream opinion on Israel.

The JC has warned about the tendency within the FCO to assume its policy is in line with mainstream Jewish opinion. There is no evidence for this either way. Similarly, Mr Polak is correct when he points out that there is no evidence for Mr Gould's remarks about MPs "in the middle" drifting away from supporting Israel.

This newspaper has been critical both of the Foreign Office and of CFI in the past. But neither Matthew Gould, nor MPs are really the issue here. Perhaps the ambassador should listen a little less to FCO generalisations about "mainstream opinion", but CFI knows he has weathered a storm of criticism about his "dual loyalty", to bring a new sophistication to British-Israel relations.

Last updated: 4:45pm, August 9 2012